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Without Trey Marshall, what are FSU's options at the star position?

The 'Noles lost a good one Saturday. Who could step up?

Tyler Hunter
Tyler Hunter
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

The Seminole community got some tough news on Sunday, as Jimbo Fisher revealed that starting star defensive back Trey Marshall would be lost for the remainder of the 2015 season. Marshall suffered an arm injury against Louisvile that will require bicep surgery.

So how does FSU replace him? The star spot in the Florida State defense is quite unique-- Marshall himself described the position as "a combination between corner, safety, and linebacker." Given that depiction, who can fit the bill for the 'Noles?

Florida State has options, and now with the loss of Marshall, it will need to evaluate them.

"There's a multitude of things we can do and will do," Jimbo Fisher said Monday.

FSU's depth chart lists Tyler Hunter as the reserve star-- as it did heading into the Louisville game. But Marshall nevertheless got the start at star, as he has all year. And when Marshall headed to the locker room in the first quarter of FSU's victory over UL, Hunter inherited that role in actuality, registering three tackles.

But he also took his lumps in coverage, most notably surrendering an easy 19-yard third-quarter touchdown reception that returned Louisville to the lead, after which he was whistled for a silly unsportsmanlike conduct call that helped the Cards boot the ball through the end zone for a touchback on the following kickoff, neutralizing any shot Florida State's now 12th-ranked kick return unit had at establishing some advantageous field position. He was benched for part of the second half after the penalty.

The 5' 11", 198-pound Hunter is comparable to Marshall (6', 207), and plays well stopping the run near the line of scrimmage. Yet, like, Marshall, he displays a propensity for getting lost in coverage. So the body is there, as is the experience. But can the FSU defense take the chance of continuing to allow big plays on the back end?


Another possibility is Derwin James. The true freshman got his first start against Louisville and seems to be realizing more and more of his amazing potential every week. The former five-star recruit keyed FSU's defensive play of the game, blitzing Cardinal QB Lamar Jackson in the third quarter and causing a fumble that helped the Florida State offense put the game out of reach.

James has shown issues in coverage as well, and also has performed best when lined up near the line of scrimmage, particularly rushing the opposition's QB. He could be a candidate to take over at star if FSU wants to dial up the pass rush some (think Jalen Ramsey blitzing from the same spot last year)-- but is that really an urgent need for the 'Noles, given the increasingly impressive play of DeMarcus Walker, Josh Sweat, Jacob Pugh, Nile Lawrence-Stample, and Giorgio Newberry? And with Georgia Tech's option attack on the horizon, is getting upfield as important as sound, assignment-solid football?

A former walk-on?

This brings us to Javien Elliott. The former walk-on was undoubtedly the feel-good story of the FSU win over UL, as he certainly did the job he was asked to do. But can his performance continue over the long haul? On the one hand, Elliott is far from imposing, physically (5' 11", 176). On the other, he squared up nicely with Louisville's James Quick, who torched the FSU secondary all day. I've no questions about Elliott's preparation or hunger; but can he hold up and take on blocks as is required? Physical receivers and stopping the run could be an issue.

Other freshmen

The key factor in this decision will likely be the progress of true freshmen Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis, both of whom struggled with injuries in camp and had their development delayed as a result.

"We've got a lot of young guys in practice who are emerging," Fisher said, indicating that Lewis is more fit to play the star position, but that McFadden is coming along nicely at corner.

If Lewis is able to contribute at star during obvious passing downs, it could allow FSU to continue to play two elite cornerbacks on the outside in Jalen Ramsey and Marquez White, and likely play someone better suited to stopping the run there on early downs.


And then there'e Jalen Ramsey.

After starting at corner in his true-freshman season of 2013, moving to safety shortly thereafter, and then playing last season at star, Ramsey has proven his ability to play -- and excel -- anywhere. So do the 'Noles entertain the option of bringing him back closer to the box? This would be a different kind of move, as it would entail shuffling the defensive backfield instead of merely plugging in a reserve like Hunter or Elliott, which, in turn, presents a different set of questions.

Is FSU comfortable removing Ramsey from the boundary corner spot? There, he's able to lockdown an opposing wide receiver, often without help from a safety. If the 'Noles choose to play him at star, it means filling that important CB role. Is Marquez White, in his first year as a starter, equipped to move over from the field-corner spot and do so? Ramsey has also been instrumental in controlling the run and screen game, dominating opposing blockers.

It is easier to protect a player from the slot with help over the top than it is with the boundary corner, since many coverages are designed without help to the short side of the field. If FSU moves Ramsey, it has to have a capable corner.

The answer here, as Jimbo Fisher indicated, is likely going to be based on matchups, which means that it might vary based on opponent and situation. The job of defensive coordinator Charles Kelly is not to find the best player for star (that is clearly Jalen Ramsey), but the best combination of defenders in the secondary (which might mean Ramsey staying at Boundary corner). The best combination in the secondary might not contain the best star.

Which option is best? Time -- and future scoreboards -- will tell.